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F1 2017 Midseason Review: Mercedes

The reigning kings of F1 have had a tougher time of it than they are used to this season...


2017 Expectations vs reality

Coming off a trio of Constructors’ and Drivers’ World Championships, Mercedes expected to be at the front of the pack. They took a good lead in engine performance and a very solid chassis & aero package into the winter and began tinkering away to get everything within the new regulations.

The result was one of the most complicated and delicate machines ever put on a race track. However, it didn’t lack for pace. A strong winter testing turned into pole position in all-but three races so far this season thanks to the famous “qualifying” engine mode, but the race pace was there too. Six wins in 11 races, and one one-two, is undoubtedly disappointing for a team used to taking the top two steps on the podium every weekend.

Toto Wolff said that he welcomes competition, but it has undoubtedly turned a few hairs grey this year, where before all was calm and simple.

The challenge from Ferrari has been serious, and at times it has boiled over. After years of walking to the Championships, Mercedes are in danger of losing both this season.

Prospects for the rest of 2017

Mercedes will be at the front for the rest of the year, the question is if they can solve the mystery of slower circuits. Both Monaco and Hungary have caused huge problems for them this year, and while they should dominate tracks like Monza, going to Singapore and Suzuka could cause issues for them that end up breaking their resistance this season.

Driver battle

RaceLewis HamiltonValtteri Bottas
AustraliaQ: 1
R: 2
Q: 3
R: 3
ChinaQ: 1
R: 1
Q: 3
R: 6
BahrainQ: 2
R: 2
Q: 1
R: 3
RussiaQ: 4
R: 4
Q: 3
R: 1
SpainQ: 1
R: 1
Q: 3
R: DNF (Engine)
MonacoQ: 14
R: 7
Q: 3
R: 4
CanadaQ: 1
R: 1
Q: 2
R: 2
AzerbaijanQ: 1
R: 5
Q: 2
R: 2
AustriaQ: 3
R: 4
Q: 1
R: 1
Great BritainQ: 1
R: 1
Q: 4
R: 2
HungaryQ: 4
R: 4
Q: 3
R: 3

A lot of people expected Lewis Hamilton to dominate the driver battle, and while he has done better than Valtteri Bottas, the Finn has been remarkably competitive in his first half-season in a championship car.

Bottas has done his part in Mercedes’ season, including a strong win in Russia and a pole-to-flag performance in Austria improved his standing with the F1 fans. He is only 19 points behind Hamilton, and 33 off Sebastian Vettel atop the standings, which is better than I think many would have thought he would do.

There is something else different about the driver battle in Mercedes this year too, and that’s the camaraderie between drivers. After years of Nico Rosberg and Hamilton sniping at each other, colliding and generally falling out, it’s nice to see two teammates get on.

Nowhere was this change in attitude more obvious than in Hungary, when after ordering a switch so Hamilton could have a shot at passing Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis backed off and allowed Bottas back into third place on the final lap. If there were not a mutual respect between the two, or a definitive “#1 Driver” in the garage that would not have happened, and it was refreshing to see.

Driver performance: Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton’s performances have been peerless for much of 2017. His dominance of the British Grand Prix once again was astounding to see, and he was untouchable in Canada too. However, it’s not all been sunshine and roses for Hamilton. His weekend in Monaco was truly dreadful. The car was not behaving under him, and watching him wrestle with it around the tight streets was really remarkable. He also had a very poor Russian Grand Prix, struggling to save his tyres for the tight final sector in qualifying, and then never really being on the pace in the race either.

Still, Lewis is in position to fight for a championship, and with Spa, Monza, and Malaysia coming up he could well head into the final races with atop the standings, and that is all he can really ask for.

Driver performance: Valtteri Bottas

I have been a fan of Bottas for a while now. He drove the Williams faster than anyone had a right too, and when Rosberg retired he was the natural choice for the seat. Still, some doubted him, but I think he has settled those doubts. Two poles and two race wins, along with six other podium finishes, have silenced almost all his critics.

He was dominant in Russia, a favourite of his, and very strong in Canada too. The test will be if he can maintain his championship threat through the second half of the year. Bottas has a fairly good record in Malaysia and Monza, but he has struggled to produce as some of the more technically demanding circuits on the back-half of the F1 calendar. If he can take the mighty Mercedes car to solid performances at places like Suzuka and Interlagos then there is no reason he can’t remain in the hunt for a championship. He would need to match or better Hamilton’s pace more consistently, but I think he can do it.

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Toby Durant

A passionate and opinionated writer, I am currently the NFL editor for RealSport. However, I also contribute to F1, WWE, Football, and other sections of the site, and I have covered the NFL International Series for RealSport and previously contributed to SB Nation.

 

I also have 10 years playing and coaching experience in American football, starting at the University of Nottingham and including a stint as defensive coordinator at Oxford Brookes University. I may be a Patriots fan but all aspects of the sport interest me, from guard play to special teams.

F1 2017 Midseason Review: Mercedes

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